As I fly into Alta Floresta in Brazil, along the southern edge of the Amazon rainforest, I can see the decay of the rainforest as its edge pushes further north.
The ever-increasing pressure for land is forcing deforestation at an alarming rate. Deep in the forest this is often by fire, here the diggers along the sides of the road are cutting swathes of forest from the edge, nibbling it away from the fringes.
Driving out of the small city on red dirt roads is depressing – what was once pristine rainforest is now agricultural land. The road in places is a deep gully; rainforest soil is very thin and, once exposed, quickly washes away causing the road to sink even deeper.
The road heads steeply up through an area of forest and I feel there is a reprieve, but on the far side, the rainforest drops away again into a plain of agriculture. Brazil nut trees are dotted across the landscape standing majestically over the fields of maize and soya.
“The Brazil nut trees are protected by law, so cannot be cut down,” my guide explains.
“Brazil nut trees require the full ecosystem around them, so they slowly die once exposed.”
Their flowers require large-bodied bees to pollinate them, which then take around 14 months to mature. The agouti is one of the few creatures that can break into the outer husk, exposing the nuts that we are familiar with. They often cache these and this is how new trees are ‘planted’. With no surrounding forest the bees and agouti do not venture into the field, leaving the remaining trees as doomed sentinels towering above a monoculture.
The better news is that I am heading to Cristalino Lodge on the Cristalino River. As we enter this reclaimed land the trees close in around us, showing us how incredible nature is at bouncing back when given a chance. At the end of the road lies Teles Pires River. We cross by boat and head up the Cristalino to the lodge.
The lodge has bought and protected 11,000 hectares of forest which abuts another two protected areas. Later in the afternoon we head up the river to the Liamo rapids, which creates a natural barrier between the two areas. The forest closes in thickly on either side of the river, teeming with birds and mammals which I hope to see over my next few days here.
I understand that the communities here need a means of supporting their families, but growing soya to feed cattle which feeds humans on the other side of the world can’t be the way.